Archive for Garden Experience

Pete’s Tree: Native Plant Success

 

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This Catbird is one of the several species enjoying the early season fruit from the Pagoda Dogwood

I have championed native plants here previously, especially deer resistant bird friendly ones and I now have another success.  My sister-in-law wanted to do something as a memorial to our son Pete after his death from cancer in 2013 and we decided on a Pagoda Dogwood.  In only three years it has borne a bumper crop of fruit and is covered with birds each morning, especially Gray Catbirds, Northern Mocking Birds, American Robins and Cedar Waxwings.  This tree has early season fruit, a much sought after food source for birds.  We planted it near the bird bath where it would have the moist soil it enjoys.  It has so much going for it; early fruit, deer resistance, spring flowers, fall color and it’s native to this area.  I know Pete is enjoying the bird show.

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Here’s what it looks like in the spring.

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Lady Jane is Always the First to Bloom

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I always summer my Amaryllis bulbs in the garden and rest them for a couple of months in the fall.  I bring them up into the sunlight in late January to have some beauty in the cold days of winter.  I’ve had Lady Jane at least 20 years.  Happy Spring!!  [Click here for a link for full instructions that I posted earlier.]

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Spaghetti Squash: A Garden Thug with Tasty Possibilities

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Here it is in the fullness of its growth. It spread from its bed to the right and smothered the asparagus. Vines that went through the fence and got outside were swiftly nipped off by deer or who knows, it might have come in the house!

I like to try a new vegetable every year but I was an innocent when I decided to try out spaghetti squash, having no idea it would be so aggressive.  The squash themselves average about a foot long.  The vines on the other hand easily spread 20 feet.  They are a winter squash type and are ripe when they turn yellow and the skin is no longer tender.  I planted two hills and got about 25 squash.

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The ripe squash

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I get an inescapable mental image when I see them like this and understand if you do too.  Ignore that. To begin, you need to cut them in half and bake them at 400º until you can pierce the skin with a sharp knife.  If you cut them crosswise you get longer strands. I found it easier to take the seeds out before baking them but it can be done afterwards as well.

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Pull at the strands with a fork and separate them as you go along.

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This is the palette from which we can create our dishes.  I tried using it as I would angel hair pasta but I found that it got lost in heavy sauces such as marinara or Bolognese.

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It worked very well in place of pasta sheets for a cheese lasagna.  I layered it about an inch thick and pressed it down gently with a spatula.  (above: lasagna plated, below, lasagna in the pan).

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Here it is with the classic “Aio e Oio.” It makes an excellent side dish, here with maple glazed salmon filet and caramelized Brussels sprouts.

I found it really works well with lighter sauces.  I sauteed it to dry it out some then made the sauce and added the squash, turning it in the sauce until all strands were coated.  Aio e Oio (Roman garlic, olive oil and red hot chili pepper with parsley) is wonderful.  I also tried it with a sauce of olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice and basil and that was terrific as well.  Be sure to salt it as you saute it as it is very bland all by itself.

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Pickled Beet Taste Test

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With the threat of hard frost looming I decided to harvest my beets.  They did quite well this year and I had so many I decided to make up several pickled beet recipes and see if I liked them better than the way I have been doing them all these years, a recipe I learned when I lived in Denmark.

The first recipe I tried came from “Cook’s Illustrated” magazine (March/April 1994, p.11).  I was intrigued by the fact it had vermouth, red wine, rosemary and orange slices along with the typical ingredients.  The next was from a cookbook that has given me some great recipes in the past; Smith & Hawkins “Gardener’s Community Cookbook” compiled by Victoria Wise, Workman Publishing, New York, 1999).  This one had horseradish and lots of spices and since I like the tang of horseradish, I put it on the list.  I also tried one from the “Bon Appetit” website which included coriander berries, “interesting”, I thought. Finally I included my Danish recipe of old, which includes onions.

We gave it three tries on successive days and my original old recipe won each time with the Bob Appetit recipe a close second and the Cook’s Illustrated and near tie for second.  The Gardener’s was too tart although I’m sure adding sugar to balance the vinegar would improve it.

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…and the winner is…

Here’s that recipe (happily the simplest):

DANISH STYLE PICKLED BEETS (serves four)

  • 1 pound prepared beets (about 3 large)
  • 1 onion thinly sliced
  • 1/4 C sugar
  • 1/2 C cider vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf

Prepare beets by washing them and boiling them in their skins.  When they can be pierced easily with a sharp knife, remove them from the water, saving 1/2 C water from the cooking liquid for the pickling sauce.  Let the beets cool enough so you can handle them to peel them.   You should be able to just push off the skin with your thumbs.  Combine the remaining ingredients in a saucepan (including the beet juice) and bring to a boil.  Slice the beets and add them to the saucepan.  Cool and refrigerate for a day or two before serving.  Can be served hot or cold.

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Green Tomato Ideas

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Green Tomato Pie.  This pie tastes a lot like apple because of the spices but it has a firmer texture which we really enjoyed.  This is adapted from an apple pie recipe.

The first light frost burned the foliage on my tomato plants but the fruit is still fine, so faced with a bushel of green tomatoes, I went to work.  First (with Thanksgiving coming) was Green Tomato Mincemeat, my mother’s recipe.  It takes mincemeat from the artery clogging, heavy dish of yesterday (one pound of beef suet!!!) to a vegetarian taste alike and gets rid of loads of green tomatoes.

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This is enough for 10 pies!

Next came Green Tomato Jam, a recipe I got on a trip to New Zealand from the Australian Woman’s Weekly.  It’s like a marmalade as it has an orange and a lemon with the tomatoes but with a subtle difference.  You can make it in the Cuisinart, so it goes quickly.

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Green Tomato Jam

Of course we had a couple of meals with Fried Green Tomatoes.  I found this recipe on line at Epicurious.com.

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Fried Green Tomatoes with basil mayonnaise (Horseradish Sauce is good too).

I ended up with Green Tomato Pickles (a recipe from a family friend that I’ve been making since the 1960’s).  These are a crisp pickle, good on hot dogs or just as a relish.  Recipes available on request.

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Green Tomato Pickles

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Garden Update and a Recipe

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I found this post on my computer just now from about 5 weeks ago, so I’m posting it now.  I apologize for the lateness and promise to try and do better.  Between four trips and getting the garden caught up. I have not been diligent about my postings!

The Sugar Snap peas are ripe and we’ve had our first stir fry of the season.  The first fawn of the year was born in the yard a couple of days ago.  The long cold spring is over and I’m finally finishing up my spring planting and transplanting.  This year I am trying a few grafted tomato plants after hearing a friend rave about them.  I picked tried and true varieties:  Brandywine, Early Girl, Cherokee Purple, Goliath, Big Beef and Delicious.  They were a third the size of the ones I had grown under lights so I found my old “Walls of Water” and used them for the grafted plants.  This worked quite well and they are catching up to the others.

The broccoli raab (true to form) matured quickly, provided us with several meals and is now going to seed, all in less than 8 weeks.  My favorite way to use it is sauteed and used as a pasta sauce with sausage and orecchietti, a dish I learned long ago in Italy.  The customary pasta shape for this dish is the orecchietti (little ears) as the shape cradles the thin sauce so it doesn’t puddle on the plate.  When I made it a couple of days ago I found I had run out of orecchietti and used linguine instead.  To be sure the pasta is flavorful I cook it just short of al dente and added it to the pan with the sausage, raab and sauce (for which I just use a big splash of dry vermouth and a bit of pasta water).  I turned the ingredients over and over until some of the sauce was absorbed and served it with grated Romano cheese.  Delicious!

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Broccoli Raab with Sausage and Linguini

Broccoli Raab with Sausage and Orecchietti (for 2)

  • 1 pound (or less) loose hot Italian sausage (you can also get the links and remove the casings) If the hot is too hot get the sweet and add red pepper flakes to taste.
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • About 4 cups packed broccoli raab (tender stems, tops and leaves)
  • 2 large cloves garlic chopped (or chop up a garlic scape)
  • About 1/2 cup dry vermouth
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 pound orecchietti (or other pasta, something with a cup to catch the sauce preferred but not required)
  • Grated Romano cheese

Bring pasta water to boil, salt it and blanch the raab leaves in it.  Remove the raab as soon as it turns bright green, drain well and chop it coarsely.  Saute sausage in olive oil, breaking it up as it cooks.  If the sausage throws off a lot of fat, drain it before proceeding to the next step. Add garlic, pepper flakes and chopped raab and saute while the pasta cooks (in the same water you used to blanch the raab), adding more oil if needed.  Add vermouth and about 1/4 C. pasta water and stir, turning the sausage & raab in it until the pasta is done.  Drain the pasta, add it to the pan and continue to turn it gently until the sauce is nearly absorbed, adding salt & pepper to taste.  Grate on Romano cheese generously and mix it in.

Serve with additional Romano.

Added Note:  A reader named Judy asked for information about “Walls of Water.”  I answered in the comments and add a photo below.

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“Walls of Water” around a tomato seedling. In back you can see the kale from last year going to seed. I let it go for the bees.  They love it and there isn’t a lot around for them at this time of year.  The plants between the tomatoes are volunteer potatoes.  I never know where they’ll turn up!

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Success with Eggplant (almost)

Last summer I tried a new (to me) way for keeping my eggplant bounty over for use in the winter.  I’ve really been happy with how it has worked out.  I sliced it thinly, brushed the slices with a thin coat of olive oil and baked them spread out on cookie sheets at 350º until they turned golden brown.  That’s all; no breading and frying, no salting and draining.  When they cooled I froze them on cookie sheets, and when frozen, piled them into plastic bags and stored them in the freezer.  I’ve used them several times with excellent results.  Last weekend we were having guests for dinner and I made an eggplant lasagna (using the eggplant in place of the pasta sheets).  Since I didn’t want to defrost any more eggplant slices than I needed, I got out my container and counted out the slices I would need.

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I decided to make it a double layered dish, one of meat, one of cheese.

I used my marinara sauce and my adaptation of Marcella Hazan’s Bolognese sauce, both made last summer.

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A base of marinara topped by a layer of eggplant slices.

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A layer of Bolognese, then add another layer of eggplant slices.

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Add a layer of cheese.  I mix ricotta with Parmesan, egg, S&P and dried herbs (since I have no fresh yet) and then a final layer of eggplant.

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Top with a final layer of marinara.

After this I got busy with preparations for guests and forgot to take any more pictures (sorry!) but I covered it with foil and baked it at 350º for about 40 minutes until all was bubbling.  I then removed the foil, added a layer of mozzarella and put it back at 400º melting the cheese and browning it slightly.  It made a beautiful lasagna, very light, not at all heavy or greasy.

There was only one problem:  The husband was allergic to eggplant!

“You should have told me!”

“I thought, what is the likelihood of her serving eggplant?”

“Coming to a gardener’s house?  Better than average…”

 

 

 

 

 

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